Jack Russell is deeply proud to have played 54 Test matches for England. The most accomplished wicketkeeper of his era, he looked forward to every Test and prepared with enormous diligence for each one.
This week, 19 years after playing his last Test, Russell will be back at work at Edgbaston on Thursday, the opening day of the inaugural day/night Test in this country when England face West Indies, and exhibiting some very different skills.
And Russell’s anticipation of the occasion is just as high, and his preparation just as thorough, for his mission this time: To capture the historic occasion on canvas.
I played in a few Edgbaston Tests and it’s one of the great grounds where it always felt noisy. The support at Edgbaston Tests is second-to-none. At a lot of Test grounds there is a sort of general murmur. At Edgbaston, it’s a lot more than that.Jack Russell
As both gifted artist and former England cricketer, that’s a challenge which excites him.
“It’s such an honour for me to be commissioned to record this on canvas because it will still be there on canvas when we’ve all gone,” Russell said. “It is a great honour. I’m really chuffed that Warwickshire have asked me because it is such a momentous occasion.”
England and West Indies were the teams involved when Russell played his final Test, in Antigua in March 1998. On that occasion, his skills were on display out in the middle as he sought the wickets of Brian Lara, Carl Hooper and co.
When the teams meet at Edgbaston on Thursday, he will take up a position on a seat between the boundary rope and the seats in the RES Wyatt Stand, seeking to capture the colours, excitement and history of a great occasion for all time.
“With the massive pavilion it is going to look very impressive,” he said. “In terms of design, I have an idea how it will look but it’s all about colours. The exciting thing for me is I don’t know what colours I’m going to get.
“I want to paint something that’s accurate so the colours are critical. I’ll never get it perfect but the challenge is to get it as close as I can.
“I will get a colour note together from the last two or three hours of the evening when the sky is changing and the floodlights come on. That will be the time to capture what I need. I’ll take photographs as well.
“I’ll get that first night down on canvas then go away and use that to do a bigger version, which will take five or six weeks, for Warwickshire to hang in the pavilion.
“I have painted a little bit of floodlit sport and recently did Saracens rugby which really helped. That was my net!
“The colours will be very different to daytime cricket and hopefully it will be a nice evening sky and will look great. On a nice evening the sky changes all the time so I may have to work quite quickly. I think sunset is 8.52pm that night so from about 7.30pm I’ll have my head down.”
Like any gifted artist, Russell will need to concentrate. And he is sure he will be able to do that despite the cacophonous Edgbaston atmosphere all around him. There will be, he insists, no need for signs saying “Quiet – Artist at Work.”
“No, no need for that,” he smiled. “I’m used to a bit of company. There’ll be 5,000 people sitting behind me telling me how to paint and I’m used to that. Normally I just hold a brush up and say ‘you come and have a go.’
“I’m really looking forward to it because cricket matches are great to paint with so much to capture. As a player I was always in the middle and it was only when I starting painting from the sidelines that I realised there is just as much entertainment beyond the boundary in the crowd as in the middle. It’s really enjoyable to be part of the banter and at Edgbaston especially because I used to love playing there and have some real friends and a lot of few memories there.
“I played in a few Edgbaston Tests and it’s one of the great grounds where it always felt noisy. The support at Edgbaston Tests is second-to-none. At a lot of Test grounds there is a sort of general murmur. At Edgbaston, it’s a lot more than that. But no problem – I’ll be able to concentrate!”
Tickets for the Day/Night Investec Test match are available, priced from £21 for adults and from £6 for Under 16s via www.edgbaston.com/tickets or by calling 0844 847 1902. Please note that there is only limited availability on days one and three.